Rohingya women wait in line for a humanitarian aid distiribution at Chakmarkul refugee camp in Bangladesh.

An Edge Hill University academic travelled to the world’s largest refugee camp to teach poetry and has now published the work of talented Rohingya poets.

James Byrne, a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, travelled to Cox’s Bazaar, home to an estimated 900,000* refugees who have crossed the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh.

He held creative writing workshops and was so impressed with the quality of poetry that he has now published the work in, “I am a Rohingya: Poetry from the Camps and Beyond”.

Featuring the original works of 15 Rohingya refugees, their poems such as ‘Unfamiliar Home’, ‘Give me a chance to restart this life’ and ‘Survivor’ focus on topics of genocide, rape and torture, but also optimism and the hope of returning home safely.

James, a former editor of The Wolf poetry magazine, said:

“It was a deeply moving experience meeting the refugees and hearing their experience of the day to day difficulties of living in the camps, trying to look forward but haunted by the past. The fact that we (fellow poet/editor Shehzar Doja) received such high-quality poetry from people who are experiencing hardships unimaginable to us in the West, is remarkable, and is a testament to each poet’s personal bravery, intelligence and dedication to their writing.

“One of the things that impressed me about the workshop group was its sense of community spirit, in itself a way the poets were able to survive. Indeed, the word ‘Rohingya’ appears in many of the poems and various poets use the pen-name ‘Ro’ to emphasise the importance of identity to a people who have been ethnically cleansed and denied basic citizenship rights.

“Often the poets explore the fragility of identity, writing about their lost home of Arakan or Cox’s Bazaar as they live with the painful memories and losses of the past whilst confronting the uncertainty of the future.”

He added:

“I hope readers are as inspired by these poems as we are, and that in reading this selection, feel impelled to bring about change to one of the most persecuted people on earth.”

I am a Rohingya: Poetry from the Camps and Beyond edited by James Byrne and Shehzar Doja is published by Arc Publications and is available now.

To find out more about Edge Hill’s Creative Writing course, click here

 

*UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency figures published 31 July 2019.